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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Friday, 10 December 2010

December 10th: Tambura in Southern Sudan

On December 10th 1981 I was in Tambura in Southern Sudan.  This was during the holiday while the school was closed for Christmas.

This holiday journey:     Rumbek to Tambura     Tambura to Yambio    Yambio to Rumbek 

Tambura was a small town of the Azande, a Bantu tribe, also found across the borders in Zaire (now Congo) and the Central African Republic.  I stayed at the Rest House, reserved for Government officials, including teachers.  The centre of the town, no more than a few houses and a market place, was along an open ridge looking down on the Zande villages.  On the way in I had seen a crashed plane on this ridge, probably a relic from the Civil War.   I recorded this day's activities in my journal.
Zandeland was best for the first 24 hours when I was still a new face in town.  The people are friendly, but more shy and distant than the Dinka.  I took a walk on a side road after breakfast, and felt again the peacefulness I've felt elsewhere in Africa, the people with friendly reserved smiles, their neat clean huts, round or rectangular, the latter seem almost like toy-town houses they are so perfectly symmetrical with their door and two windows.  No animals around except dogs, the cattle in town belong to wandering Dinka who also have a shelter behind the Unity Restaurant.  But when I reached the area of the next village and sat beneath a mango-tree for a breather, the people began to gather round me in some consternation, and I think they were genuinely frightened.  Rafael who had shown me the rest house the day before came by and rescued me, taking 32 oranges to the owner of the Unity restaurant ("Arab man") and they had a fight over the price which upset Rafael.

In the evening I walked around the mission and primary school, which was an idyllic spot with fine views and a long gorgeous sunset through the perpetual haze.  I talked with a carpenter while a sister practised Christmas songs, beautifully, in the church, and then I sat and gazed over the valleys rolling away, trees and trees for ever, and another crashed plane and it felt good.  Later sitting on the veranda of the guest-house I could hear drums and a small bow-harp being played.

Leaving Rumbek for my Christmas travel holiday was primarily about getting the right lift.  I met a Dutch aid worker who was going to Wau and so that is where I went without any specific plans.  I enjoyed the journey as this was my first chance for three months to see more than very local country.  I enjoyed the road which was easier to drive in the dry; we saw some animals including a fine bongo antelope.  We also saw some people in the forest who were definitely not Dinka, Bongo perhaps before Tonj, and after Tonj some men going hunting, who were short, wearing loin-cloths and carrying traps and snares made of wood and wire, with most handsome beadwork and very friendly waves and smiles towards us.

Dinka Cattle at Wau:  My picture
In Wau I spent a few nights at the Youth Hostel to take stock.  It was a sociable time with both holidaying teachers and passing travellers.   However this had a down side: all the teachers were teaching in the north and some clearly did not believe what I was saying about my school and its difficulties; I found myself defending the South and the southern people in the inevitable Sudan split.  I was happiest when I went to the Dinka souk and drank tea.  I spoke enough words of Dinka to communicate a bit now - I think the language was called Manjang.  One day I went for a walk on the far bank of the river across the bridge.  There was a calf who had got stuck in the mud and I helped the young Dinka retrieve it.  Arranging this and discussing his cattle in Dinka was very satisfying.

I travelled onwards to the south on the mail truck which was the nearest thing to public transport as it left on a (fairly) regular schedule, weekly I think.  It was crowded and the foreign travellers were whinging about the conditions.  We had a long wait at the Bussere ferry and then drove through forest and small Belanda settlements.  As evening came I saw more animals, such as hartebeest and waterbuck.  We had a chai stop and then an overnight stop at a village and I slept out under the stars.  In the morning, driving through hills, we had a stop for repairs by a very pretty set of rapids which I had to myself.  At Tambura I got off and found a room at the Rest House.  I was constantly complimented on the good exam results achieved by Rumbek the previous year, top in the whole South.   I knew these results had been reached via cheating and I think everyone else knew it, but the pretence was kept up in a formal way.

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